CAIUS COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE: 6 SUNDIALS ON THE GATE OF HONOUR


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Gonville and Caius College is one of the oldest colleges of Cambridge University. It was founded in 1348 by Edmund Gonville, who has suffered the cruel fate of rarely being mentioned nowadays; the college is almost invariably referred to simply as ‘Caius’, after John Caius, the man who re-founded the college in 1557 at a time when it had fallen on hard times.

The college has 3 fine gates that represent the stages of academic life: matriculation, with entrance through the Gate of Humility; undergraduate life, with regular passage through the Gate of Virtue during a student’s career; and finally graduation,with students passing through the Gate of Honour to the Senate House to receive their degrees.

The lower part of the Gate of Honourcaius-college-cambridge-sundial-gate-of-honour5

The middle section of the Gate of Honourcaius-college-cambridge-sundial-gate-of-honour4

The handsome modern sundial was installed in 1963 as part of the 400th anniversary celebration of the college’s re-foundation by Caius. There are in fact 6 vertical sundials, arranged in 3 pairs placed round the hexagonal tower. They were designed by an astronomer and fellow Dr Message, and the Junior Bursar Dr Powell. The bronze dial faces are painted with vitreous enamel. Of the original set of sundials dating from 1557, only traces remained.

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There is something very satisfying about this set of dials. The symmetry, the proportions, the materials and the design all seem to work in harmony. Cambridge colleges have many sundials between them, many original and ancient. Of the modern dials, the Caius Gate of Honour is adorned by, arguably, the finest.** 

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** The principal sundial of my own college is dignified but… somewhat undistinguished in comparison!

Photo credit: All photos Mrs RH during a recent academic festivity

For further reading, track down a copy of “Cambridge Sundials” by Alexis Brookes and Margaret Stanier (available from the British Sundial Society). It can also be found as a downloadable pdf. There is an equivalent book by Margaret Stanier covering Oxford

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A FINE MULTI-FACETED SCOTTISH SUNDIAL AT KELBURN CASTLE, AYRSHIRE


A FINE MULTI-FACETED SCOTTISH SUNDIAL AT KELBURN CASTLE, AYRSHIRE

If you want to find a good choice of multi-faceted sundials, Scotland is the place to go. A considerable number may be found at country houses and castles, or elsewhere having originated from a large estate. Many, perhaps most, are 200-300 years old. Some are relatively simple; others are so complex that their purpose is clearly as much ornamental as horological. Good examples can be found at Glamis, Haddo House, Castle Fraser and Culzean Castle. The photos below of a wonderful 1707 multi-faceted oblelisk sundial were taken at Kelburn Castle in Ayrshire*.

The sundial from each angle – the polyhedral part, and the stem below

East Side

North Side

West Side

South Side

The ‘Spire’

I later regretted not having counted the number of individual dials. This is one of the most important sundials in the United Kingdom. Some restoration has been carried out, and it now appears to be in overall good condition. It is heartening to think that, more than 300 years after this obelisk was installed at Kelburn, the castle is still occupied by the same family.

*Although the grounds are open to the public, this historic 1707 sundial is in the private part and I am grateful to the Earl of Glasgow for permission to use photos that I took while at Kelburn as a guest.